B.C. government says Blackmore brought polygamy prosecution on himself

Canadian Press/March 9, 2010

Vancouver, B.C. - A B.C. religious leader who has admitted to having multiple wives brought a highly publicized and ultimately unsuccessful prosecution upon himself by openly practising polygamy, says the provincial government.

In a statement of defence filed in a civil lawsuit, the province said Winston Blackmore is to blame for his own legal troubles.

"The province says that any damage suffered by the plaintiff was the result of the plaintiff's own criminal conduct, including practising polygamy," says the statement of defence, filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Feb. 16.

Blackmore, leader of a polygamous sect in the community of Bountiful, in southeastern B.C., is suing the province over his arrest and prosecution last year on a polygamy charge.

He claims the attorney general wrongly ignored multiple legal opinions that advised against laying charges against Blackmore and another community leader in Bountiful, James Oler.

The charges were eventually tossed out by the court and Blackmore launched a lawsuit two months ago, claiming he has suffered mental distress and public embarrassment from a prosecution that violated his rights.

However, the province says there was no such violation.

"In engaging in conduct the plaintiff knew to be contrary to the Criminal Code, the plaintiff assumed the risk of criminal prosecution," says the statement of defence.

Blackmore and Oler - the leaders of two separate factions of the polygamous religious group - were arrested in January 2009 and each charged with one count of polygamy. Blackmore was accused of having 19 wives and Oler three.

The charges came after two separate legal experts, including a special prosecutor, recommended against charging Blackmore and Oler, suggesting instead that the province ask the court to determine whether Canada's polygamy laws were in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Instead, the province appointed another special prosecutor, Terry Robertson, who ultimately recommended charging the pair.

The B.C. Supreme Court tossed out the charges last fall, concluding the attorney general did not have the authority to appoint a new special prosecutor and suggesting the decision left the appearance of political interference.

In its statement of defence, the province defends Robertson's appointment.

"The attorney general exercised his discretionary powers in a matter that required a balancing of considerations, including but not limited to fairness to the accused and the public interest in the prosecution of criminal offences which were believed to have harmed women and children at Bountiful," says the document.

The statements of claim and defence each contain allegations that have not yet been tested in court. Blackmore's lawyer couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

The provincial government has since asked the B.C. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether Canada's polygamy laws violate the religious protections in the charter.

Blackmore and Oler are leaders of two separate factions of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a breakaway sect of the mainstream Mormon Church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Blackmore is reported to have more than 100 children.

The RCMP first investigated the community in 1990, and there have been subsequent investigations into allegations including polygamy, sexual abuse, and trafficking young girls to sister polygamous communities in the U.S. to be married.

But prosecutors repeatedly declined to lay charges.

The RCMP opened a new investigation in 2005, and the force recommended charges against Blackmore and Oler in 2007.

The attorney general at the time, Wally Oppal, then appointed the first special prosecutor, Richard Peck, to review the recommendation. Peck recommended the review the polygamy law.

Oppal then asked another lawyer, Len Doust, to review that decision. Doust agreed with Peck.

It wasn't until after Oppal appointed Robertson that the men were arrested and charged.

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